The letters of Vincent van Gogh

March 7, 2010 • 9:11 am

When I was in Amsterdam last November I visited the van Gogh Museum and posted some of my impressions.  Almost as impressive as van Gogh’s paintings were his letters on display, most of them written to his brother Theo.  They show a deeply learned man, versed not only in the history of his craft but in literature as well.

In this week’s New York Review of Books, Richard Dorment, art critic of The Daily Telegraph, has a terrific review (free online) of two books about those letters.  If you’re interested in the man and his art, have a look at this piece, which dispels several myths about van Gogh.

Here’s one of Vincent’s letters to Theo, showing how he used them to work out the ideas for many of his paintings:

5 thoughts on “The letters of Vincent van Gogh

  1. This was the first museum that my sons, then 8 and 11 were both deeply engaged in. So much so they begged me to take them to a van Gogh exhibit in New York. We missed that one, but I took them to the Fogg. We all have very fond memories of the museum – except Dad who had to give a talk that day and missed the visit.

  2. I dont think there is a free online version of this review (?). I could be wrong. I find the reviewers’ analysis & opinion rather revisionist, in following “a rational approach” to “understand” the work of VvG. To categorize the painter as farouche-not sure if this term is wildly popular in England or not-and “difficult”, adds nothing to know him and about him. And it is orthogonal to the “physiological analysis” of VvG oeuvre. Farouche? (from Latin: forasticus)and dificcult? What in the world is difficult? Have we met yet a painter, an artist, a scientist, that are not “difficult”? I havent. VvG, saddly, was a deeply sick human being that killed himself. And of course “..Because of this Vincent is still popularly seen as an inspired madman..”. Precisely. A couple of dozen diagnoses and hundred of papers about his psychiatric condition(s), we dont know exactly how this is related to his art. To add we know he was a boozer-the highly toxic absynthe was a favourite-and drank coffee, which according to Mr Dorment makes him addicted to caffeine. To suggest that at the end of his life VvGs’ condition and his art are dissociated in a way that there it isnt a reciprocal relationship is unfounded.But popular among art critics that pretend to recognize the “rational” elements of inspiration and creativity in VvG works’ and for that matter in many other artists. Mr Dorment seems to propugnate that there is a recipe to be Van Gogh, found in his letters.

  3. Dr. Coyne,

    I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d never really heard of Dürer and Caravaggio, until I read your previous post containing the list of your favorite painters.

    I spent an hour Wiki-ing both of them. What a treat! Albrecht Dürer in particular seems like a multi-faceted, incredibly original and creative artist, some of whose woodcuts and paintings seem to anticipate the modern pulp-fiction genre of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. What great animal depictions, also.

    Thanks for sharing the wealth!

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